Terms for Pain


Short lived or sudden, acute is the opposite of chronic. Things which are acute do not last a long time. Acute pain generally lasts less than six months.


The uncontrollable use of a substance which causes harm, addiction is characterized by a psychological need for the substance. Addicts crave the substance and cannot control their behavior. Addiction is not physical as much as psychological. Pseudoaddiction is a physical need for a substance which is usually related to tolerance. In pseudoaddiction the use of the substance is not necessarily bad.


A medication used to treat pain.

Central nervous system

Also abbreviated “CNS,” the central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes the nerve roots and other nerves that travel throughout the body.


The spine is divided into four segments: cervical; thoracic; lumbar; and, sacral. The cervical area is more commonly known as the neck.


Chronic is the opposite of acute. It means long lived or of long duration. Chronic pain generally lasts more than six.


There is a disc between every two vertebral bones. The discs are soft, cushion the spin, and allow movement. Discs can rupture. This can cause neck pain or back pain. It can also cause a pinched nerve with numbness or weakness.

Facet joint

Small joints in the spine, these separate the back parts of adjacent vertebral bones. The facet joints are behind the nerve roots. A worn out facet joint can cause pain and can pinch a nerve.

Facet block

This is a procedure performed to diagnose the cause of pain or to treat the pain. A needle is introduced into the small facet joint. If injecting a numbing medication relieves pain, then it is clear that the facet joint is the cause of the pain. Injecting a steroid can then treat the pain.


Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood medical problem which causes widespread pain, difficulty with sleep, and depression. It is thought to be due to abnormal connective tissue (ligaments and tendons). It is often treated with antidepressants.

Immune system

This is the collection of cells, hormones, and other chemicals which protects the body from infection. The immune system can malfunction causing abnormal pain and swelling.


This is a normal response to injury but can also become chronic. Inflammation is marked by swelling, redness, heat, and pain. It can be treated with steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


The spine is divided into four segments: cervical; thoracic; lumbar; and, sacral. The lumbar area is more commonly known as the low back. Nerve The nerves are the electrical wires of the body. They conduct sensation and control the muscles. There are hundreds of nerves in the body. Nerves can be injured by trauma or inflammation.

Nerve block

When nerves are damaged they can cause pain. The pain can be treated by blocking the nerve impulses with injections of local anesthetic or steroids.


Neuropathies are diseases of the nerves. The fragment “neuro” refers to the nerves and the fragment “pathic” (from pathology) means illness. Neuropathies can be “focal,” involving just one nerve, or “general,” involving many nerves.


This is an abbreviation for “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” Examples are Motrin, Naprosyn, Nuprin, Advil, and Aspirin.


These are a class of pain relieving medications and are most commonly known as narcotics.

Palliative care

Sometimes treatments will cure a problem and at other times all that can be done is to relieve symptoms. Also called comfort care, palliative care relieves pain and other problems in chronically or terminally ill patients.

Peripheral nervous system

This portion of the nervous system includes the nerve roots and nerves but does not include the brain or spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are part of the central nervous system. This is abbreviated “PNS.”

Physical dependence

Also called tolerance; this refers to a reliance on medications and usually means that there will be withdrawal symptoms if the medication is stopped suddenly. This is a physical condition and is not the same as addiction which is psychological.


These hormone-like chemicals occur naturally in the body. Ordinarily they help fight infection but can also cause pain. Aspirin and non-steroidal medications inhibit the function of these chemicals and can decrease pain due to excess prostaglandin levels.


When a person needs pain medications for a pain condition, is tolerant to the medications, and cannot stop them without side effects; he or she may request extra drugs or hoard the medications. This is done so that the medications do not run out and to make sure that the pain is controlled. Often misunderstood, this is not the same as addiction.

Stellate ganglion

This collection of sympathetic nerves in the neck which controls basic bodily functions in the head and neck is called the stellate ganglion. It is named stellate since it looks like a star.

Stellate ganglion block

If the stellate ganglion is functioning abnormally and causing pain, it is possible to inject a numbing medication and/or steroids to block the pain.

Sympathetic nerves

These nerves reach all areas of the body and control essential functions. It is part of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic nerves comprise the other part of the autonomic nervous system. Sympathetic nerves, when abnormal, can cause pain. Blocking these nerves often eases pain.


This is an inflammation of the tendons. It usually affects the forearms, but can also cause pain in the upper arms or legs. It is most often treated with exercise, analgesics, and occasionally bracing.


The spine is divided into four segments: cervical; thoracic; lumbar; and, sacral. The thoracic area is more commonly known as the mid-back and includes the area with ribs.


This condition occurs as the body becomes used to a substance. The substance loses its effectiveness over time.


If one has used a pain medication or muscle relaxant for a long period, the body becomes used to the drug. Suddenly stopping the medicine can cause pain, anxiety, sweating, and other symptoms.

The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

Copyright © 2009, Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group. All rights are reserved.  No part of this web site may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored, electronically or on paper, without the written permission of the Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc.